Dominican Republic Post #2
Continuing my blogging about our recent missions trip to the DR.
Hospital El Buen Samaritano. The Good Samaritan Hospital. It was founded by Jean Luc Phanord and those working with him with the vision of ministering to the poor Haitian population that lived around La Romana, DR, working in the sugarcane fields. It first opened in 1997 as little more than a clinic. With money and teams from churches and groups in the U.S. it has grown to become one of the best hospitals on the island, and it continues to be focused on its mission to minister to the poor Haitian population. In my five years of working there, I have been amazed to see the growth and changes to this hospital and have been encouraged to work on the construction. When I arrived in 2009 the hospital was two stories and we found ourselves working on building a new Emergency Room entrance.
We moved rock, lugged bags of cement and helped build forms for the columns. I remember how hard it was to picture what it would be like when it was done, and like many construction projects, at the beginning it looked smaller than it would when it was finished. This picture on the left shows the view that first day when I stepped off the bus and surveyed what would become the new emergency room entrance in another couple of years. At the end of the week, the beginnings of the columns had appeared and the walls were starting to go up. It had been hard work but was exciting to see things taking shape. Returning in 2010 brought my first real taste of watching something we had worked on really advance. We stepped off the bus to see things really moved forward. Now the entrance was much closer to completion.
This was the year that I met my friend Vladimir (or Bladamir) and, although we could barely communicate across the language barrier, we began a friendship as we pulled wires together to wire the outlets and lights for the new ER entrance. This picture on the right shows the view that second year. This shows the exciting dynamic of watching the project come alive before our very eyes. It is just one of the wonderful aspects of returning each year to see what has happened. It is now 2013 and I have just returned from my fifth trip. This next picture shows a current picture of the entrance. The ER entrance is now fully functional and beautiful.
The old roof is now the third floor and we have spent the last two years pulling supplies up to the third floor to help finish the walls and rooms on that floor. They hope to have at least half of that floor done and ready for patients by December of this year. If they do, it will be exciting should the Lord allow me to return in January of 2014. At the top of this post is a picture of the entire hospital that I took this year, showing the progress that has been made. It is so exciting to play even a small part in building this hospital which represents hope and help to so many. If you have not engaged in a missions trip, I encourage you to add this experience. It is a great way to start to see the world the way Jesus does and to move your heart beyond the often small and petty concerns that can consume us. Just yesterday I found myself getting frustrated because I could not find a couple of products that I wanted (not needed) at Hannaford. God rebuked me immediately as he brought to mind the trip I just returned from. I so easily slide from thankfulness to complaining. I need to serve Christ more and sacrifice for others more to make sure that I don't begin to creep back onto the throne of my life and make things about me. The Good Samaritan Hospital sits as a tangible reminder to me of my need to serve others, especially the truly poor and needy.
Dominican Republic Post #1
Returning from the Dominican Republic for my fifth trip in five years, I continue to be impacted in different ways each time. I plan a series of posts talking about my experiences and reflections on the trip.
In the above picture, Dave Ellis, our pharmacist, is explaining to an older gentlemen about the medications he is receiving. You can see the little baggies of pills in the man's hands. Each baggie has 30 pills, enough for one month if taken daily. The thing is, who knows when the clinic will return to this particular batey? It might be months or even a year before a medical team returns. Furthermore, we drove almost an hour to get to this batey. With gas at 5 dollars a gallon and the most common transportation options moped or horse, it is not likely that there will be trips into La Romana to visit the hospital. In other words, this moment captured on camera is very important for this gentleman. A moment few of us in America will ever know. When I need medicine, chances are I have a pretty good supply of basics on hand. If not, there is a Wal-Mart, a Hanaford, and a Rite Aid within 10 minutes of my house. I am filthy rich compared to this man and his neighbors.
While at the batey, Andrew Ellis brought a bag of baseballs he had purchased. Not a big investment, just a bag of baseballs. There was a group of young men playing baseball...with rocks. They were very excited to receive the gift of baseballs. Baseballs are not a staple, not a necessity. The point is, who of us can't get to a Wal-Mart to buy a baseball, or Play It Again sports for a used ball. We are filthy rich.
But whoever has the world's goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? (1 John 3:17)
Taxes, paychecks, recession. We talk about times being tough. What we really mean is that we can't live as comfortably with all the comforts we desire. We struggle to afford our cable tv, our high-speed internet, our dining out, and our recreational activities. We are filthy rich.
Check out Nate's Blog for his reflections on the trip. Its a great read!
Lately my blog posts have been weighty and studied discussions of big issues. Time for a lighter discussion of an even bigger issue.
Tonight as we sat around the table as a family, I pulled out a book we are reading together. It is an old book by an Enlish author. A kids book like another kids book I loved when I was young (and still do). As I read, we got to one of the many funny parts. Soon, I can't even read because I am laughing so hard, tears in my eyes. Sarah is laughing, the kids are laughing. Slowly I manage to choke out the sentences as the humor builds and builds. We're all laughing and having such a good time.
Finally, we had to stop. Supper was over. Kids brushed teeth and put on jammies. It was bedtime (7pm). Sarah nursed the baby while I went up and prayed with the three older kids, hugged and kissed them and tucked them in. Sarah put the baby to bed.
It was fun. This is our home. Sitting at the table having family dinner and laughing together is part of our core home experience. After sharing a life of Christ with them, this is the most important gift we can give our kids. These moments. These snapshots.
See, that was weighty even as it is light. There's a "window" into this pastor. :)
Although I am a follower of Christ, a conservative, an evangelical with a "fundamental" understanding of the Bible, I am frequently dismayed or discouraged by my dear brothers and sisters who seem to have a faith informed by politics more than politics informed by faith. What do I mean by that? I mean that we take our "religious" emphasis cues from our political standpoint rather than carefully and fully apply our faith to our politics. Its subtle and I think so many Christians, often including pastors, haven't noticed the difference.
Let me further explain this phenomenon. If I were to ask you who had the "Christian" point of view in the last election and therefore was the "candidate of choice" for Christians, most people (including) pastors I know from our Maine churches would say Romney/Republican. They would base this on an issue combination of Opposition to Abortion, Opposition to Welfare, Opposition to Taxes/Government Spending, Opposition to Gun Control, Opposition to Same-Sex Marriage. In fact, I have read enough facebook posts, op-eds, and Christian organization newsletters to know that these days, Same-Sex marriage is sometimes the beginning and end of determining whether the candidate/party is "Christian."
So would it surprise you to know that a majority of evangelicals supported Obama if you eliminate whites? So how do we fit that uncomfortable fact into our political faith? Do we just decide that they are sinful, worldly Christians that don't love Jesus as much as us white evangelicals do? A dangerous assumption that sounds a little racist. It also means that we have now used a political test to determine someone's spiritual standing. Instead, we have to expand our paradigm and realize that these evangelicals have other issues that inform them beyond the ones we may be using. Indeed, many of these issues include, poverty, immigration, racial justice, just to name three. So now we ask ourselves; Does Jesus, and the Bible in general, have forceful teachings about caring for the poor, caring for the stranger/sojourner, and justice? I agree that the Bible speaks against homosexuality, and shows that life begins in the womb, not after birth. For my conservative brothers who are right now beginning to think I sound decidedly "liberal", you need to know that I'm very conservative politically. But these other Christians, by emphasizing poverty over same-sex marriage as an issue are no more condoning homosexuality than a white evangelical is condoning poverty by minimizing welfare issues in favor of same-sex marriage.
When we start looking at a wider picture, we start having a tension. Do I prioritize same-sex marriage over compassion for the poor? Both are taught firmly in Scripture. Which is a bigger threat to the spiritual standing of my children, rampant American materialism/consumerism, or gay rights? I would argue both are. So I find that the issue is not so simple. I find that neither political party is Christian. I find that both are trying to do somethings that really run counter to Biblical teaching and some things that are more or less compatible with Christian teaching. So maybe I should be careful about labeling any one political party, or candidate as "Christian" or "Non-Christian"
I'm not done. I know this is long, but I like to work my way around an issue to make sure I am critically thinking, not just engaged in polemics.
As our selected issues have run amok in society, namely same-sex marriage, I have heard Christians, including some I really respect, theorize that bad things are now happening because of our society's stand on this issue. This assumes that America is blessed as long as its stays Biblical on this issue and will cease to be blessed now that America is not. Again, I'm not arguing that abandoning the Bible on this issue is not bad for society. I just think this is a simplistic approach that is more about supporting our point of view than the facts.
So let's look at some other evidence. Did you know that as an American you are much more likely to suffer a violent death then those who live in far less evangelical, far more liberal countries? Our rate of violent death is about 6 in every 100,000. Second place is Finland which runs a distant second of 2 for every 100,000. American men have the lowest life expectancy of wealthy countries and American women the second lowest. We have more gun violence, worse health, and much more deaths due to drunk driving and drugs. We have a higher level of poverty, especially looking at kids.
Are all these societal ills a result of the fact that America has turned her back on her "Chrisitan" heritage? Hard to argue intelligently when the countries that are doing better than us have less Christian influence, are far more secular and far more liberal for the most part . Finland, our distant second, records 5% church attendance (which includes more than just evangelicals) while America records 43% (same caveat). (2004 figures. Source: Wikipedia).
As a Christian, I look at our high poverty rate, our high rate of gun violence, our high rate of violent death and our poor health. Then I decide what causes I want to champion, what my faith dictates, what Jesus would want to focus on, what furthers the Gospel. Where should I expend my energy and what issues should I call attention to? With so many sins besetting us, which ones are causing the "decline" of our civilization. Which "causes" should we be most known for in this dying world?
I'm not going to try to answer those questions for you, but I think so often we Christians who are sojourning in America are sounding like we are defending our faith in America instead of proclaiming our faith in Christ. Let's take a careful, thoughtful, intelligent, and Biblically comprehensive view. We do not need to "go soft" on sin to perhaps reevaluate which things we are trumpeting and what role we are seeking to play in the American society. Above all, I personally believe that it is a tragedy in the making if the loudest message that a very lost, dying world hears from followers of Christ is anything other than, God loved you so much that He gave His only Son to die for your sins so that whoever puts their trust in Him will never perish in judgement but have eternal life.
Sources to help provoke thought:
Exodus 23:1-2, Lev. 19:15, Lev. 25:35, Deut 10:14-22, Deut 15:7-11, Deut 27:19, Psalm 139:13, Psalm 140:12, Prov 1:19, Prov 3:31, Prov. 14:31, Prov. 28:27, Isa. 44:2, Jer. 1:5, Hab 2:12, Matt 19:21-24, Matt 23:23, 1 Cor. 6, 1 Tim. 1:8-11,
With the last two sermons on idols and what I shared Sunday on my most tempting idol, I feel led to share a deeply personal glance at my heart.
Everyone at Bean's Corner and many beyond know that I don't want to be called "Pastor" as a title instead of my name. Many have struggled with this, some have disagreed with me, others have just puzzled at why I feel this way. Many have understood too. I have several different reasons why I feel this way and I have alluded to the biggest reason, but this morning I want to fully share with you the biggest reason.
It is Fear. Normally I would say that fear is a bad motivator, but not in this case. You see, I know me too well to trust me. I'm afraid of me, or more specifically, what my heart is capable of.
"The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it? "I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind, Even to give to each man according to his ways, According to the results of his deeds. (Jeremiah 17:9-10)
Being a pastor is a huge invitation to pride. You deal in powerful forces. People look up to you, can even honor you a lot. You are given access into people's lives to advise, teach, and guide. How many jobs are powerful enough that the title of the job is used as a name? We don't run into teachers, cops, repairmen, mill workers, or most people and use their titles as a name. Sometimes Judge. Senator, perhaps. Govenor. Mr. President. Such is the power of this profession. "Good morning, Pastor." I will tell you right now, that can feel REALLY good. To be honored, respected, recognized, turned to, held up and appreciated is a powerful feeling. Guess which part of me likes it. Not my humilty.
For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ. (Galatians 1:10)
I am SO afraid of this. Big Time! I know me. In my life I have watched pastor after pastor slip into pride without ever noticing, it was so subtle. They appreciated, liked, and finally wanted and expected, that status. As someone who has always felt inferior and left out, I am extra susceptible to treasuring the feelings of being recognized, appreciated and loved. It feels good, and that scares me. I must keep my distance from the siren's song of pride, fleeing like Joseph from Potiphar's wife.
But Jesus called them to Himself and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. "It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many." (Matthew 20:25-28)
Being constantly lifted up and honored can really get in the head of someone who is supposed to have a slave mentality. At least it does for me. I don't want to feel and start desiring the power of the pastorate. So I fight it, and one of the ways I fight that is to constantly try to stop people from elevating my title. People say, the pastor should be respected. That isn't false, but I would rather be respected by having people heed to Word of the Lord and the discipling I do, rather than trying to honor or elevate me, the man. Being honored and recognized invites me to being proud of who I am rather than be servant that is merely a jar of clay filled with God's treasure.
But, "The one who brags should brag about what the Lord has done." Those who praise themselves are not accepted. Those the Lord praises are accepted. (2 Corinthians 10:17-18)
I'm nothing. Sure I have gifts, abilities, talents, and learning. Yes, I went to school. SO WHAT? All that counts for nothing.
The very credentials these people are waving around as something special, I'm tearing up and throwing out with the trash--along with everything else I used to take credit for. And why? Because of Christ. Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant--dog dung. I've dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ (Philippians 3:7-8)
Only the work that God does matters and while He may use me, he does not NEED me. Anything that I accomplish is only through Him and therefore I am not worthy of praise.
"He does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he? "So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, 'We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.'" (Luke 17:9-10)
It is for this reason that I don't want attention, lots of praise, recognition, and a title. The pride and ego in my heart wants it too much and it can't be trusted with it. My flesh must be killed and its desire of recognition and respect must be denied it. I'm very fearful of it. If I allow it to start to infect me, it might not show up to the church, but the spiritual consequences would be Devastating.
"Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 6:1)
Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:25-27)
You at church might not notice any difference in the ministry. You would see me doing good things, being a good pastor. You would go on praising me and thinking well of me, but my heart will have betrayed me and your love, respect and honor would be the beginning AND END of my reward.
My desire to is follow Paul's example.
For we never came with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed--God is witness-- nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority. But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children. (1 Thessalonians 2:5-7)
So that is my heart, and the fear of my heart. I'm scared of me. I don't trust me. I don't want to be proud of my work, of what is happening, of what "My Ministry" is. It isn't "My Ministry" it is Christ's and I shouldn't be given credit for it. I am falling far short of the pastor I ought to be, and even if I ever get this right, I will still not be anything but an obedient slave.
Now perhaps you understand my strange obsession with these things and why I do what I do. Pray for me and pray that I never begin to seek and enjoy the glory that belongs soley and completely to God!